Deutsche Telekom and Fraunhofer are teaming up on applied research to solve real-world logistics challenges, initially using NB-IoT.
When experts argue that governments should fund research and development (R&D) work in order to boost innovation and economic advancement, they often point to the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft as a shining example of best practice.
As Europe’s largest institution for applied research, Fraunhofer is indisputably successful in the way that it mixes public and private funding to fuel its activities – so much so, that the so-called ‘Fraunhofer model’ is much emulated elsewhere in the world.
Under this model, the organization earns about 70 percent of its income from research contracts that it negotiates with both the private and public sectors. But it is the remaining 30 percent, which comes in the form of state funding from the German federal and state governments, that really lays the groundwork for these activities.
The results are impressive: in 2016, Fraunhofer researchers reported 798 inventions, an annual record for the institute. Of these, 608 were filed at patent offices, averaging more than two patent applications per working day.
Now, Fraunhofer is teaming up with Deutsche Telekom on a new IoT development centre, Telekom Open IoT Labs, with a particular focus on the use of IoT technologies in supply chain and logistics operations.
Telekom Open IoT Labs
At the Telekom Open IoT Labs, up to six scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) and three IoT experts from Deutsche Telekom will work together to develop and test IoT solutions and get them ready for market.
The goal is to optimize processes in the manufacturing, logistics and aviation sectors and the Labs will be open to other companies interested in collaborating with Deutsche Telekom and Fraunhofer to develop application-specific IoT prototypes.
Telekom Open IoT Labs will in this way add an industrial IoT component to Deutsche Telekom’s existing network of R&D facilities. In 2016, R&D expenditure by parent company Deutsche Telekom Group amounted to €84.1 million. There are numerous ‘T-Labs’ worldwide, including those in Berlin, Darmstadt and Bonn in Germany; Beer Sheva and Tel Aviv in Israel; and Mountain View, California in the US.
Speaking at the launch of the new Telekom Open IoT Labs, Professor Dr Michael ten Hompel, managing director of Fraunhofer IML said that the two organisations will combine two areas of competence vital to any successful IoT project. “Fraunhofer is providing comprehensive expertise in hardware and applications in IoT environments. And Deutsche Telekom is providing its network expertise, together with IoT and cloud solutions, all of which are key elements for IoT-based digitization.”
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Applied research for real-world challenges
The first step for the partners will be to work jointly with interested companies to identify requirements for IoT solutions, define these applications and develop prototypes.
For example, in cooperation with fastening components manufacturer Wurth Industrie Service, a service button prototype has been developed for kickstarting the reordering of ‘C parts’, such as screws, nuts and washers, using narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) connectivity.
The purpose of Telekom Open IoT Labs is not basic research – that is, blue-sky work that aims to fill gaps in human knowledge. In keeping with Fraunhofer’s overall ethos, it’s about applied research, which aims to solve specific, real-world problems.
“All the technologies necessary for IoT solutions are in place,” said Anette Bronder, head of the digital and security department at Deutsche Telekom. “Now, we need to find application areas that will offer companies real value, both in the short and long terms.”
NB-IoT connectivity has been chosen, meanwhile, because it is well-suited to logistics applications – for increasing supply-chain transparency in ship, rail and truck transportation, for example.